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Horse Flies

Horse Flies

Horse flies, scientifically known as Tabanidae, are a family of large, robust flies known for their painful bites and impressive flying abilities. These flies are found worldwide, with over 4,500 species identified to date. Here's a comprehensive overview of horse flies:

What Do Horse Flies Look Like?

Horse flies are a distinctive group of flies known for their robust and often colorful appearance. Here's a detailed description of what horse flies typically look like:

  • Size: Horse flies are generally larger than common house flies, with an average length ranging from 6 to 25 millimeters, depending on the species. Some species can be quite substantial, making them among the largest flies.
  • Body Shape: They have stout, robust bodies, which help them in their powerful flight. Their bodies are typically covered in short, fine hairs.
  • Coloration: The coloration of horse flies can vary among species, but they often have dark-colored bodies. Some species have distinctive markings or patterns on their bodies and wings. These patterns can include stripes, spots, or other intricate designs. The colors can range from black and brown to gray, yellow, or even green.
  • Eyes: One of the most striking features of horse flies is their large, often iridescent or metallic-colored compound eyes. These eyes provide them with excellent vision, which is crucial for locating their hosts.
  • Wings: Horse flies have two pairs of wings, as is typical for flies. Their wings are clear or slightly tinted and may have darker patterns or markings. The wings are relatively large and well-developed, allowing for agile and powerful flight.
  • Mouthparts: The mouthparts of horse flies are distinctive and adapted for their blood-feeding behavior. Females have scissor-like mouthparts called "mandibles" that they use to lacerate the skin and feed on blood. Male horse flies, which primarily feed on nectar, have different mouthparts.
  • Sex Dimorphism: In many species of horse flies, there is sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females can look different. Females are typically larger and have more robust mouthparts for blood-feeding, while males are smaller and have mouthparts adapted for feeding on nectar.

There is a wide variety of horse fly species, each with its unique characteristics and coloration patterns. While the general description provided here applies to many horse fly species, specific details may vary among different types of horse flies found around the world.

Where Do Horse Flies Live?

Horse flies (Tabanidae) can be found in a wide range of habitats around the world. Their distribution is diverse, and they are adaptable to various environments. Here are some common types of habitats where horse flies are known to live:

  • Near Bodies of Water: Many species of horse flies are associated with aquatic or semi-aquatic habitats. They may be found near rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and marshes. Female horse flies often lay their eggs near or in water, where their larvae develop.
  • Grasslands and Meadows: Horse flies are frequently encountered in open grassy areas and meadows. These environments provide ample opportunities for them to find hosts, such as livestock and wildlife, for blood-feeding.
  • Wooded Areas: Some species of horse flies inhabit wooded or forested regions. They can be found along forest edges, clearings, and trails where they wait for potential hosts to pass by.
  • Agricultural Areas: Horse flies can be a nuisance to livestock in rural agricultural areas, as they readily feed on horses, cattle, and other farm animals. They may be found in pastures and fields where these animals graze.
  • Coastal Areas: Coastal regions, including salt marshes and estuaries, can also be suitable habitats for certain horse fly species. They are often associated with brackish water and sandy shores.
  • Urban and Suburban Areas: While horse flies are more commonly associated with rural and natural environments, they can sometimes be found in urban and suburban areas, particularly in regions where suitable habitats exist nearby.
  • Geographic Range: Horse flies have a global distribution and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Their specific geographic range can vary depending on the species, with some being more regionally restricted, while others have a broader distribution.

Horse fly distribution can vary depending on the specific species and local environmental conditions. Their presence in an area may also be influenced by the availability of suitable hosts for blood-feeding, as female horse flies require blood meals for egg production. While they can be a nuisance to both humans and animals due to their painful bites, horse flies play a role in ecosystems as pollinators and, in some cases, as predators of other insects.

What Do Horse Flies Eat?

Horse flies (Tabanidae) exhibit distinct feeding habits depending on their gender, with females and males having different dietary preferences:

Female Horse Flies: Female horse flies are the ones known for their blood-feeding behavior. They require blood meals to obtain essential nutrients for egg production. Their primary hosts are typically mammals, including:

  • Horses (hence the name "horse flies"
  • Cattle
  • Deer
  • Livestock (e.g., cows, sheep)
  • Wildlife (e.g., deer, moose, wild boar)
  • Humans (in some cases)

Female horse flies have specialized mouthparts consisting of scissor-like mandibles and a proboscis. They use these mouthparts to lacerate the skin and feed on the blood that pools at the wound site. Their saliva contains anticoagulants to prevent the blood from clotting, allowing them to feed more effectively. Their bites can be painful and may result in local swelling and itching.

Male Horse Flies: Unlike females, male horse flies do not engage in blood-feeding. Instead, their diet primarily consists of nectar from flowers. They have mouthparts adapted for nectar feeding, which allows them to access the sugary fluids found in flowers. Males are also important pollinators as they visit flowers while feeding on nectar.

Female horse flies feed on the blood of various mammals, while male horse flies primarily feed on nectar from flowers. This difference in feeding behavior is a clear example of sexual dimorphism, where males and females of the same species have distinct physical and behavioral characteristics.

Do Horse Flies Bite?

Yes, horse flies do bite, and their bites are known for being painful and irritating. Female horse flies are the ones responsible for biting, and they do so to obtain a blood meal. They require this blood to obtain essential nutrients for egg production. Here are some key details about horse fly bites:

  • Painful Bites: Horse fly bites can be quite painful due to the specialized mouthparts they possess. Female horse flies have scissor-like mandibles and a proboscis that they use to lacerate the skin and feed on the blood that pools at the wound site.
  • Blood-Feeding Behavior: When a female horse fly lands on a host, it uses its sharp mouthparts to make a small incision in the skin. It then feeds on the blood that oozes from the wound. The fly's saliva contains anticoagulants, which prevent the blood from clotting, allowing the fly to feed more effectively.
  • Local Reactions: Horse fly bites can result in localized reactions at the site of the bite. These reactions may include swelling, redness, itching, and sometimes even welts. Some individuals may be more sensitive to horse fly bites than others.
  • Hosts: While they are called "horse flies," these insects can bite a wide range of mammals, including horses, cattle, deer, livestock (such as cows and sheep), and even humans. They are attracted to the movement, warmth, and carbon dioxide exhaled by their hosts.

Horse fly bites are not only painful but can also be a nuisance to animals, particularly livestock, as they can lead to discomfort and potential economic losses in agricultural settings. Therefore, effective strategies for managing and preventing horse fly bites may be implemented in areas where they are problematic.

Learn more: Do Horse Flies Bite?

Horse Fly Life Cycle

The life cycle of horse flies (Tabanidae) is complex and involves several stages, including egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Here is a detailed description of the life cycle of horse flies:

Egg Stage:

  • Egg Laying: Female horse flies lay their eggs near or in water, depending on the species. Some species prefer laying eggs on vegetation above the water, while others deposit them directly in water. The choice of oviposition site can vary among species.
  • Egg Appearance: Horse fly eggs are typically elongated and cylindrical in shape. They are often laid in clusters or masses.

Larval Stage:

  • Hatching: After a period of incubation, which can vary in duration depending on environmental conditions, the eggs hatch, and the larvae emerge.
  • Larval Habitat: Horse fly larvae are aquatic or semi-aquatic and are often found in damp or waterlogged environments such as wetlands, mudflats, or the edges of ponds and streams. Some species are also found in moist soil.
  • Larval Feeding: Larvae are predaceous and feed on other small aquatic organisms, including insect larvae, small crustaceans, and even small vertebrates if they can catch them.
  • Development: The larval stage can last for several weeks to several months, depending on the species and environmental conditions. Larvae undergo several molts as they grow and develop.

Pupal Stage:

  • Prepupation: After reaching a certain size, horse fly larvae enter the pupal stage. They typically construct a pupal case or cocoon in which they undergo metamorphosis.
  • Pupal Habitat: Pupae are often found in the same aquatic or damp habitats as the larvae, but they may also be present in drier soil environments.
  • Metamorphosis: Inside the pupal case, the larvae undergo a complete transformation into adult horse flies. This process includes the development of wings, legs, and other adult structures.

Adult Stage:

  • Emergence: Once the metamorphosis is complete, the adult horse fly emerges from the pupal case.
  • Feeding and Reproduction: Adult female horse flies require blood meals to reproduce and lay eggs. They feed on the blood of mammals, while males feed on nectar from flowers.
  • Lifespan: The adult stage of horse flies is relatively short, typically lasting a few weeks to a few months, depending on the species. Their primary goal as adults is to mate and lay eggs, contributing to the next generation.

The life cycle of horse flies can vary in duration and specific requirements based on environmental conditions, temperature, and species. In regions with seasonal changes, horse flies are often more active during the warmer months when hosts are readily available for blood-feeding. Understanding their life cycle is essential for managing and controlling horse fly populations in areas where they are considered pests.

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